HC Deb 24 November 1987 vol 123 cc162-3W
32. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the performance of the computer equipment handling the changes in social security payments in April 1988.

Mr. Portillo

So far as the 1988 benefit uprating changes are concerned, the existing equipment will be used, so beneficiaries will almost certainly experience the normal high levels of reliability throughout the changeover.

The microcomputer systems in use in the Department's local offices are being upgraded to handle assessments of the new income support and book-keeping for the social fund—which come into effect from April 1988. There is no reason to suppose that the performance of these systems will fall below the satisfactory level now being achieved. Indeed, the upgraded systems should prove faster and easier to use, as a result of improvements to the software now being finalised.

The family credit system, which also comes into effect from April 1988, represents a much larger gain in efficiency, since it replaces a manual operation with an on-line computer system, aiming to give a response to queries and instructions within, on average, two seconds. The mainframes are consistently providing even higher levels of serviceability than those specified in the contract with ICL, the suppliers.

We place the greatest possible importance on serviceability and the meeting of performance criteria, and ensure that these are achieved both by contractual means and by rigorous quality control. This involves a continuous programme of mainframe quality assurance, which all equipment must pass before being brought into use.